Who Does America Really Love?

At the end of year, a number of articles appeared in the press suggesting that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel was changing and that a new special feeling was emerging between Americans and Palestinians. What hogwash! Just how paranoid have Jews become that one presidential trip to visit the Palestinians would cause such hand-wringing over the state of a 50 year alliance? It's time for a reality check.

The evidence for America's support for the Palestinians is the warm reception that President Clinton received in Gaza by the American flag-waving throng that greeted him, the fact that Clinton gave a supportive speech before the Palestinian council, and that he made a ridiculous comparison between the children of Palestinian terrorists and the children of their victims. During the same trip Clinton pressured Israel to make concessions, declined an invitation to address the Knesset (and make a speech that could have ended Israel's 50th anniversary on a high note) and was generally viewed as putting the screws to his ally.

The Clinton trip was certainly the high water mark of the Palestinians' political history, but, for all its symbolism, the visit did not change the basics of U.S. Middle East policy or the policies of either the Palestinians or Israelis.

The U.S. interest in the Palestinians begins and ends with the peace process. We want stability in the region and one step toward that goal is to facilitate peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians. The U.S. will provide diplomatic and economic support toward that objective, but that is the extent of the relationship.

In poll after poll, when compared with Israel, fewer than one in seven Americans sympathize with the Palestinians. So long as terrorist groups exist, and there's no reason to believe they will disappear, Palestinians will continue to be viewed negatively, tarred perhaps unfairly by the extremists among them.

The rump state the Palestinians will eventually declare will have no strategic value to the United States; in fact, our relationship with Israel will demand that efforts be made to minimize the Palestinians' military capability. Trade ties between our two nations will evolve, but this will be more of a welfare relationship, with America continuing to pour economic aid into the country to promote development in the hope of preventing such widespread poverty and disaffection that Palestinians will be motivated to attack Israel.

And what about the possibility of a new powerful Palestinian lobby influencing Congress? Well, the Palestinians have tried to lobby Congress without success for more than 50 years. Their prime supporters and antagonists have usually been other Arab states, who do not want to see a strong Palestinian state and certainly don't want any help for the Palestinians to come at their expense. The Palestinian state will have nothing to offer the Untied States and will be just another one of our foreign charity cases, though the perpetual threat of Palestinian violence destabilizing the region will require giving it disproportionate attention.

From the Palestinians' perspective, the political support of the United States has always been the means to the end of establishing a state. As we've seen during the five years of quasi-independence, the Palestinians share none of our values and seek from us only money and pressure on Israel. The idea that a Palestinian state would be a friend of the United States is preposterous. The best we could hope for is it would only vote against us 70 percent of the time at the United Nations, like our other Arab "allies." The Palestinians' true colors were on display only a week after Clinton left when they burned the same American flags they'd been waving to protest the U.S. attack on Iraq.

By contrast, the special relationship between the United States and Israel is rooted in the values we share. In addition, over the last two decades, a unique strategic relationship has evolved. American sympathies are clearly with Israel (by more than four to one in polls). Unlike Palestine, Israel has a great deal to offer the United States in the way of innovations in education, social services, science and technology. Israel is America's 24th leading trade partner, with a volume of more than $13 billion in 1997.

The pro-Israel lobby is without question the most powerful foreign policy interest group and it will remain so. The United States provides billions of dollars in aid to Israel and funds for research and development. Even more activity is taking place at the state and local level as more and more states recognize the benefits they can derive from a bilateral relationship with Israel. A whole network of relationships have been built between the Israeli people and Americans over the last 50 years that will not be undone or threatened by a Palestinian state.

It may not help the fundraising efforts of Jewish organizations to say this, but the truth is despite President Clinton proving to be something less than the best friend Israel has ever had, U.S.-Israel ties are stronger than ever and will be unaffected by the creation of a Palestinian state. Just as we have always argued that the United States can be friends with Arab states without sacrificing its alliance with Israel, it is equally true that Americans can maintain that special bond and also develop a relationship with the Palestinians.